Understanding Donald Trump

By June 20, 2018Other

I have written about President Donald J. Trump before (here and here, for example). This essay was prompted by the Singapore meeting between him and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. I may be wrong, but the media treatment of the whole meeting process seemed to begin with Trump’s refusal to meet’s being seen as provocative, risking a historic possibility. Then when the meeting occurred, he was being damned with the faintest of praise — previous North Korean leaders had given similar promises, where were the inspection guarantees, the statement was long on rhetoric and short on detail, and so on. Who was the victor, Trump or Kim? Both of them, surely. Meeting face-to-face to point to a better future was plainly an improvement on ICBM-rattling from a distance.

I thought once again of the rank failure of our media, borrowing from the American, to provide anything other than quick jibes when they are referring to the American President. His tweets are displayed; third parties refer to him as an oaf and/or a buffoon; attacks on him from anywhere are reported; his sexual life and its legal and financial ramifications are stock items. Policies? Successes? What are they?

If we only had the mass media to assist us it would be permissible to think that the whole of the USA was in a state of revolt, and that some deus ex machina would soon arise to remove the President from the scene to everyone’s satisfaction. But that is not the reality. The most important area for him is the economic domain. He has only been in office for seventeen months, but the economic indicators are favourable for him. How much of the following will any Australian reader/viewer know, I wonder? Well, the Dow is way up. GDP is up, inflation is down, unemployment is down (the lowest level for claims in forty years), export income is up, consumer confidence is high, and wages are showing growth. Most particularly, unemployment levels for both black and Hispanic workers are down. In fact, the level of black unemployment is the lowest it has been for forty years. The American working class, and notably the black and Hispanic elements of it, were key supports in Trump’s election victory in 2016. They are seeing some signs of what he promised then. Of course, how much of it is due to him is a moot question. But then you can say that of the economy under any elected government at any time, both for good and for ill.

There is a dismaying tendency in our media, and in the media of the rest of Western world, to see  Trump only in cartoon terms, and not to ask quite simple questions. The only thing I have seen of any consequence is his approval rating — not who would vote for him, because that is not a question asked in America until there are actually known presidential candidates. His approval rating runs at about 40 per cent. It was a little higher when he was elected, but dropped to its current level almost at once, and has stayed there. On the face of it, most Americans either disapprove of their President or are unsure. A lot is made of this. I’m not sure why, really. But the media are little interested in what is happening in the US economy, which seems strange to me. Where it is mentioned, in the US media, it seems mostly in the context of (i) good things have happened for other reasons and are not Trump’s doing, while (ii) bad things, or anything that could have been better, are definitely his responsibility. It does seem a bit like the often-seen proposition in climate science that cooling is natural variation while warming is due to CO2.

My suggestion is that Trump is so different to leaders everywhere (Kim and Putin perhaps excepted) that the media don’t understand him or the way he goes about things. And since his style is often rude and brusque, while he simply ignores the media, on the ground (quite a fair one, in my view) that they show extreme bias against him, they are not in much of a position to understand his policies or strategies. (‘Policies, strategies! Are you kidding?’). That they detest him is clear. But that detestation robs them of an opportunity to understand and make sense of the 45th President, who is there until 2020, and may well run again. He might win, too, if the things going for him continue to do so.

So how might someone understand Donald J. Trump? From a variety of sources, mostly in the USA, I offer the following. First come some quite obvious things, but people forget them and their implications. He is not a politician, and has never served in any elected role. So he didn’t come to office with a well-developed sense of what you do and how you do it, the useful context that most people have when they move to some kind of high-level administrative or leadership role. Indeed, he is a businessman, famous for knowing about ‘deals’. Businesspeople go for outcomes; politicians want to be there next time. That’s a real difference. Politics in democracies has a rich and well-known culture. I’ve mentioned before the change in perspective from being first elected and critical, to being a veteran and understanding why things are the way they are. That doesn’t work in most businesses, unless they have a monopoly.

One thing that seems to typify the Trump way is for him to act first, not to react. He likes to take the initiative, and let others react to his initiative. Because everyone else is used to the old ways (and how Trump is criticised for not following them!) he has an almost instant advantage. And he is not afraid to try something and then abandon it. For him that’s not failure. It’s learning. Western governments are most reluctant to admit to error. ‘Pink batts’ in Australia was an error, because it was done without enough forethought, and then administered without sufficient skill; but no one involved in that event will accept responsibility, certainly not Kevin Rudd. Trump is happy to make errors if the final outcome is a good one. As one writer I saw put it: ‘chaos is power’. The tendency of all Western governments, perhaps all governments, is to reduce chaos and create order. Trump likes enhancing chaos — for example, with North Korea, trade wars and immigration — so that he is a position to make a deal to end it.

The same writer had another wise observation: ‘Conventional politicians have a narrow window of agenda items. They’re very clear on what they want, what they don’t want, what they’re willing to do and what they’re willing to give up to get it. But Mr Trump is never clear-cut or predictable. He thrives on being the opposite. No one know what the President will agree to, or what he would walk away from. That gives him a lot of room in negotiation. Finally, and he really does stand out in this respect from our Mr T, and almost any political leader I can think of, he doesn’t mind being disliked. It is a fatal problem for democratic leaders that they feel the need to be likeable and liked. He doesn’t care at all. To need to be liked he sees, I think, as a great weakness. He is about outcomes.

I don’t warm to his style. I don’t like his swagger. I don’t like the parade of his wealth. But all that is irrelevant. If you want to understand what is in store for us all, you need to come to terms with the real Donald Trump, not the cartoon. And to return to the beginning, I would not be at all surprised if both the Chinese and the American leaders have told Kim that he needs to emulate China since Deng Xiaoping, forty years ago, who led China into a market economy while keeping the reins of political power firmly in the hands of the ruling Communist Party.

Kim has ICBMs and I doubt he will give those up. They are there to stop invasion threats. But he can probably stop testing them, and demolish a few more laboratories and proving grounds. It would be a decent start. And if that were to occur, and his people start to live with less hardship and more confidence, then the Donald would be much more entitled to a Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama, who earned one just for having been elected President.

















Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Anders Valland says:

    You reflect my own take on Trump, Don. The western media are full of shallow commentators without the competence to go beyond tweets, and they run around in herds parroting each other. The real Trump is a guy who trades and deals. I think he will grow into the position where he would like to run again, just for the hell of it. And he might win it again, because it is his home-turf that decides and not the rest of us.

    And I am deeply ashamed of the Obama Nobel peace prize. I am Norwegian, and even though it is not a Norwegian prize it is handed out here and awarded by a committee consisting solely of Norwegians. Retired politicians, that is. But still the world thinks of it as the Norwegian Nobel comittee. Handing it to Obama was deeply saddening, and he did not have the decency to turn it down either although it was written all over him that he knew he was not, and would not ever be, worthy of it.

  • Peter Black says:

    The Donald did an interesting interview with Oprah Winfrey about 25yrs ago, and he was very articulate in the reasoning he put forward as to what was wrong with the US and the world’s economies. Curiously, his current ‘delivery’ is nothing like it was back then, but the message was the same. So, it can be said that he didn’t come to the presidency unprepared and had almost been working towards a very deliberate strategy for quite some time.

    As to the media’s hatred of Trump, it can be said they hold that view of anyone they perceive to be conservative politically, and politicians such as Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, John Howard, and Tony Abbott would no doubt agree. And let’s not forget how much they despised Margaret Thatcher.

    However, the greatest problem for the media in dealing with Trump is that he has effectively side-lined them by taking away their capacity to control the information flow and how it is manipulated. This is a very clever strategy by him because his tweets cannot be doctored. Additionally, if the reach of his tweets is to be believed, he is getting the message to a greater number of followers than the more traditional means. Turnbull must surely be jealous about this.

    So, it appears that Trump will continue being focussed on expanding the well-being of US citizens, and so far it would appear to be working. The question needs to be asked as to how much quicker his reforms would be implemented if he had media support? (This is also the case in this country). And I would be surprised if he actually accepted a Nobel prize, should it be offered.

  • JMO says:

    As the sticker I saw on the back of a large SUV in Montana said – “TRUMP 2020”. I cannot disagree.

    The more I hear/read about him the more I agree the Electoral College voters got it right.

  • Peter E says:

    Trump is going well. I recently saw that his popularity has risen to 45%, passing the popular Reagan – 44%. He follows a predictable negotiation style – first, a strong differentiation, then a pause, a think, a compromise, and then a win-win settlement. More power to his arm.

  • Rafe Champion says:

    Nice to see no comments from trolls. Yet.
    Two sad things about the Trump Derangement Syndrome . It has so far prevented any noticeable voices of sanity in the Democrat Party from stepping up to make the party worthy of serious consideration again. And it has filled the air with so much childish abuse of Trump that reasonable criticism is swamped. And no politician can be allowed to escape from reasonable criticism.

  • whyisitso says:

    No comments since 22 June. Is there a block somewhere?

  • spangled drongo says:

    Some detail on why America is becoming great again. A friend sent me this:

    Core Competency

    These numbers help explain why these last eight years were disastrous for the USA. I read the last item and then looked at Trump’s Cabinet. No wonder Washington, DC is in a turmoil. Trump’s picks are bosses who expect their employees to work. These are Eye Opening Numbers. This is what bothers a lot of people about Trump. He won’t accept a can’t do attitude, or inexperienced, incompetent performance. He will get results; it just might not be smooth or pretty.
    Here are some amazing stats: An eye opener!

    1. These 10 States now have more people on welfare than they do employed!

    New Mexico
    New York
    Maine, and
    South Carolina

    2. Last month, the Senate Budget Committee reports that in fiscal year 2012, between food stamps, housing support, child care, Medicaid and other benefits, the average U.S. Household below the poverty line received $168.00 a day in government support.

    What’s the problem with that much support? Well the average household income in America is just over $50,000, which averages out to $137.13 a day.

    To put it another way, being on welfare now pays the equivalent of $30.00 an hour for 40 hour week, while the average job pays $24.00 an hour

    3. Check the last set of statistics!!

    The percentage of each past president’s cabinet who had worked in the private business sector prior to their appointment to the cabinet. You know what the private business sector is: A real-life business not a government job.

    Here are the percentages:
    38% T. Roosevelt
    40% Taft
    52% Wilson
    49% Harding
    48% Coolidge
    42% Hoover
    50% F. D. Roosevelt
    50% Truman
    57% Eisenhower
    30% Kennedy
    47% Johnson
    53% Nixon
    42% Ford
    32% Carter
    56% Reagan
    51% GH Bush
    39% Clinton
    55% GW Bush
    8% Obama
    90% Trump

    This helps explain the bias, if not the incompetence, of the last administration: ONLY 8% of them have ever worked in private business!

    How could Obama, president of a major nation and society, the one with the most successful economic system in world history, stand and talk about business when he’s never worked for one?

    Or about jobs when he has never really had one? And, when it’s the same for 92% of his senior staff and closest advisers? They spent most of their time in academia, government, and/or non-profit jobs or as “community organizers.”

    Trump has a big swamp to drain.

  • beththeserf says:

    Thx for that, SD. Maybe not a lot of people know those stats, I didn’t.

  • BB says:

    I find the reaction to Trump from the left amazing. My brother is very much of the left having been a cabinet minister in both the Whitlam and Hawke governments.On Thursday we went to Bowral to celebrate my aunt’s 90th birthday. So there is my brother and his wife both highly educated people but he made some quip about Trump. Something about MI6 trying to assassinate him Trump that is. I pretty much ignored it but I thought what a prat of a thing to say. It has become some sort of mantra to prove you are of the left. Trump won the election because the American people voted for him it is a democratic process of Western civilisation get over it. For me the derangement over this greatly lowers my opinion of those that persist with it. If Trump manages to cure cancer he will be denigrated for it how dare he.

    • margaret says:

      BB I hope your aunt had a nice 90th birthday …

    • Chris Warren says:


      If anyone related to me was as stupid to say:

      “If Trump manages to cure cancer he will be denigrated for it how dare he.”

      I would insist on a DNA test.

      Maybe you snhould get yours ready.

  • spangled drongo says:

    This is priceless.

    Trump is like global warming:

    “Donald Trump or any news that alludes to him, unhinges the minds of those who oppose him. Trump, in this respect, is like global warming. He is the universal key to every phenomenon. Any statement about Trump, so long as it is in any way condemnatory, dismissive, insulting or condescending, requires neither proof, consistency, logic or (and especially) decency.”


  • Tim Walshaw says:

    As an economist (that hated profession) , I know that Trump is vastly underrated. Not only has he reduced unemployment to its lowest level in 40 years, in 15 months, but he did a lot more than just talk and be nice. His recent Tax Bill not only reduced the corporate tax to 21% (oh yeah, yawn), but wait for this, and this was not mentioned in the press at all, depreciation deductions were increased to 100% per cent! Yes, 100%. You can buy your truck, factory full of machines, etc., and expence the cost. For all those who don’t understand that, it means write the whole cost off in the first year. The economic multiplier hit the roof! Unemployment levels dived!
    And what is this? The clever devil! A tiny detail. He vastly reduced interest deductibility. What is he up to? Where is he going?
    This is the signature, 100% depreciation and zero deductibility of interest payments, of a TAX ON ECONOMIC RENTS. OK, YOU don’t know what that is, but Donald Trump does. He is ahead of EVERYBODY. He slipped it in and nobody noticed, or cared. The sly old devil. To say that the USA is going to be great again is an understatement.
    To say EVERYBODY underrates Donald Trump is an understatement.

    • Chris Warren says:

      These sort of partisan rants without evidence annoy me.

      Here is US employment trend over last 10 years.

      Obviously there is no particular or novel change in trend due to Trump.


      • spangled drongo says:

        What you’re in denial of, blith, is that in the areas that were being wiped off the face of the earth under Obama, that supported Trump, like coal mining, have improved considerably.

        But there are plenty of deniers like you so it is not hard to find biased data.

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